Come on, sing it with me: welcome to the Hotel Influenza!
You’re right, it doesn’t have the same ring as the original. It is, however, the name of a genuine hotel. Part of a clinical research unit by Saint Louis University, it aims to keep people comfortable for 24 hours a day while making sure they don’t escape as scientific experiments are carried out on them.
Let me clarify: This hotel is part of the university’s Center for Vaccine Development. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the researchers here will undertake human challenge studies – they'll give the willing guests experimental vaccines for influenza, before deliberately infecting them with one or more strains of it to see if they get sick.
Normally, flu studies involve vaccinating people and seeing if they produce flu-fighting antibodies. Human challenge studies are harder to get set up, but if possible, they are cheaper and provide far more valuable data.
The thoroughly sealed-off Hotel Influenza – technically known as the Extended Stay Research Unit – can accommodate roughly 24 volunteers. Apart from a catered canteen and a gym, it also contains “hotel-style rooms that are equipped with private bathrooms, TV and internet.”
It’s a comfy sounding way to be quarantined as the symptoms of the flu, or perhaps respiratory syncytial viral infection, inevitably begin to manifest themselves. If you’re interested in a stay, and you don’t mind getting sick for medical science, you’ll receive roughly $3,500 for both your time and travel.
This is, of course, very important stuff. The greatest single killer epidemic in human history was the 1918 flu outbreak, which ended the lives of as many as 100 million people, roughly 5 percent of the global population at the time.
Something similar could happen again with another influenza strain down the line. Even today, it can kill as many as 56,000 people per year in the US alone.